The National Bank Open, formerly Rogers Cup

Damien’s Spin: Barty, Azarenka create deadly doubles team

May 23, 2019

A new pair to keep an eye on

One of the more intriguing women’s doubles teams to watch at Roland Garros could be the tandem of Victoria Azarenka and Ashleigh Barty, fresh off capturing the doubles title in Rome.

It was the first title ever for the unseeded Azarenka/Barty combo, who fought from behind to defeat the No. 8 seeded tandem of Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Demi Schuurs 46, 6-0 (10-3).

Azarenka and Barty won all five of their matches in just four days after rain washed out a complete day of competition.

“I think we improve when we improve our singles, and then we come together and just have fun in doubles,” said Azarenka.

Barty is currently ranked No. 8 in the world in singles.  Citing a recurring right arm injury, Barty pulled out of the Strasbourg tourney right after Rome.

Azarenka, a former world No. 1, is currently 44th in singles. She is the third highest ranked Belarussian female behind Aryna Sabalenka and Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

Karolina Pliskova served notice in Rome that she may be the woman to watch at Roland Garros in the second tennis major of the season.

While Rafael Nadal was swatting away the doubts about his chances for a 12th title at Roland Garros created by his losses in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid on the dirt, Pliskova ensured she will be the No. 2 seed at the French Open by defeating Jo Konta 6-3, 6-4 in the final of the Italian Open.

Pliskova did not drop serve, and defeated Konta in one hour, 25 minutes.

“I was a little bit nervous today. It’s a final, so you have to be,” said Pliskova afterwards. “Jo played great tennis so she made it quite tough for me.

“I just hope I can take the tennis I was playing here with me to Paris.”

It was Pliskova’s third clay court title of her career, and first under new coach Conchita Martinez.

Martinez, having won Rome four times herself, undoubtedly supplied some crucial insider information. Pliskova, meanwhile, was the first Czech woman to win the Italian Open since 1978.

The No. 1 women’s seed at Roland Garros, meanwhile, will be Naomi Osaka. Simona Halep is the defending champion.

The status of Serena Williams for the French Open, meanwhile, remains unclear. She pulled out of second round match in Rome with her sister, Venus, citing ongoing knee issues. Williams has so far failed to win a tournament since becoming a mother.

In terms of which WTA player has looked best during the clay season so far, it’s hard to say, mostly because there have been four different winners at the four WTA Premier clay events. Madison Keys defeated Caroline Wozniacki in Charleston, Petra Kvitova beat Anna Kontaveit in Stuttgart, Kiki Bertens beat Halep in Madrid and Pliskova beat Konta in Rome.

Keys making a difference off the court

For Madison Keys, enough was enough. It was time to take a stand.

Keys, 24, took a leadership role this month in the fight against online abuse of women and female athletes, using her position as an ambassador for the FearlesslyGIRL organization to ask others to join with her on #KinderGirlWorldDay on May 21st. Participants were challenged to tag and recognize a fellow girl or woman on social media, and leave them a message of support and kindness.

“To walk off the court and be flooded with hate messages from complete strangers, messages of racial abuse, calling me ugly, wishing violence on me and my family, all because I lost a tennis match?,” she wrote on the S.H.E. Network website.

“It’s not okay and it shouldn’t be tolerated by anyone. not the social media platforms themselves, not by the social media community at large, and certainly not by me.”

It’s a story that certainly resonates with Canadian tennis fans familiar with the online abuse suffered years ago by Rebecca Marino, part of the reason she left the game for seven years before returning.

Keys, currently No. 14 in the world, says she felt compelled to take a public stand

“I want to help show the world the power of kindness, and the difference we can make when we take action,” wrote Keys.

Gibbs will miss Roland Garros

The entire tennis community is pulling for Nicole Gibbs.

The 26-year-old American had to pull out of the French Open to undergo surgery for salivary gland cancer. It was detected during a routine visit to her dentist.

“It was definitely earth-shattering for the first few days,” she said.

Gibbs wrote on social media that her prognosis is very good and its believed the surgery she underwent should be sufficient.

“See you back on court soon!” she wrote.

Gibbs is currently ranked 116th in the world in singles.

(Feature photo: @vika7/Twitter)